If I happen to have any constant readers who anxiously await the new month just to see what Johnny has to say, they know full well that I despise the movie Blade Runner. I've mentioned this a few times, and nothing has changed. I hate that boring piece of crap just as much as I hate celery, math and people who use numbers to spell out a word.
So would it be possible that someone could produce a video game spun off of this horrendous movie, and make it entertaining, even fun enough to play over and over again? Well just over a decade ago, Westwood Studios did just that (the people behind that Command and Conquer game). Not only is this game ridiculously fun, but the fact that there are alternate endings boosts the replay value through the roof. And I'm not talking about cheesy alternate endings that so many video games boast (either you win or you die, and you get a mini movie for each one). These alternate endings require the player to start making important decisions straight from the beginning of the game.
Since I hate the movie, what could have possibly moved me to play the game? A friend gave me a review, and more specifically, told me basically what I needed to hear to get me to try it out.
"Hey Johnny, I know you hate Blade Runner, but there's a video game based on it you might like."
I groaned in disgust.
"Trust me man. It's actually a really solid mystery game."
"Wait a minute, a mystery? I'll have to give that a shot."
It's not too often I come across a video game that has a decent mystery in it (although the Police Quest series was good until they focused solely on SWAT stuff), and true to my friend's word, this game delivered. You play as Ray McCoy, a rookie Blade Runner who is called to investigate a crime possibly perpetrated by replicants (human-looking androids that are banned from Earth, for those who don't know the BR universe). You collect evidence and question witnesses, hit the shooting range and track down the evil robot bastards and those who sympathize with them (which is also a crime in the future. So much for free speech!)
Now several BR fans may be claiming that this game sounds suspiciously like the movie, and I will admit that there are several common plot points. In fact, the game takes place during the movie, and also includes a lot of common scenery and characters. But the primary difference is that this game is fun. The game is compelling and interesting. It's not nearly as slow-paced as your precious movie. And the guy doing the narration actually has a voice that works for noir--- it's not the gruff, hardboiled Mike Hammer voice you'd expect, but it works light years better than Harrison Ford's voice over.
One of my favorite aspects of the game is something that they missed out on in the movie --- more material from the source novel by Philip K. Dick (which is one of my favorite books, even though I'm not a huge Sci-Fi fan). In fact, there are times where the game uses the book more than the movie itself. Several scenes and even entire pieces of dialogue are taken straight from the book, and it also has some plays on what is and is not reality, which was one of author Dick's favorite themes.
Plus, as a special bonus feature, this game also succeeds where the movie failed: good dialogue. The dialogue in the film is boring and lifeless, pertaining only on moving the story forward in as utilitarian a fashion as possible. In fact, it's seemingly like the conversations you have every day (unless you and your friends have a love for vocabulary and word play), and I for one think that if a movie can stray from reality in only one way, it's the dialogue. Snappy lines and colorful language is a must.
The game succeeds here because whoever wrote the script must have had a true love for his job. The language is descriptive, emotional, and at times poetic. It immerses you in the game by making you want to listen to every word, and every remark fits the scene and fits the story. Plus you can quote stuff from the game far more than you can from the movie (the only thing I hear people quote from the movie are Rutger Hauer's final lines, and they've recited it enough to make me puke every time someone mentions "tears in the rain").
But even the best script would be useless without quality voice actors. Ray McCoy's narration and dialogue is superbly done (by some guy named Mark Benninghofen), and the supporting cast is good too. Lisa Edelstein (the hot lady who thinks she's Hugh Laurie's boss on House) is a fellow blade runner, Pauley Perrette (the hot goth lady on NCIS) is a young replicant, plus Jeff Garza (Curb Your Enthusiasm) and Mark Rolston (Rush Hour and Supernatural) play big parts. Several actors from the movie come in to drop a few lines too (Sean Young, Joe Turkel, and William Sanderson, to name a few).
By now someone's wondering why I remember so much from a movie that I hate. First, I did some research for this artice, and second, bite me.
Now how about what really makes or breaks a video game, the control system? I've played tons of games that are interesting, but the controls can destroy the experience within seconds. Well, the control scheme here is pretty basic: point and click with the mouse. You use it to navigate, to interact with objects, and to shoot stuff (right click to whip out your gun). If you want to choose what to say, you find the right option in the menu, and you use your mouse to pick the question or response.
While I know plenty of people hate the point-and-click controls, it's pretty much the only way this particular game could work. The developers wasted no effort creating rich scenery and backdrops, and sometimes the terrain is so littered with garbage or obstacles that using the keyboard to move around would be frustrating and ridiculous. Instead, you point to the place you want to walk to and Ray will find his own way there.
Of course, there is one common drawback to point-and-click controls, and that is the ever maddening "pixel hunt", where you have to search the entire screen like an archeological digging grid to find what you need. But fear not! I can only recall about two instances where I needed to pull this crap, and one of them is for a very specific ending, so you might only have to deal with one. And if that one really gives you a hard time, there's some good walkthroughs online which will give you a good location to limit your search to. Everything else you need to interact with is pretty well lit-up from the rest of the scenery.
Now on to the game's only drawback. There are times when it seems like less of a game and more of an interactive movie. To move from story point to story point, you have to ask a few questions, find the right evidence and piss off the right replicants. This will definitely begin to irritate the modern video game player who is used to the open-world approach of Grand Theft Auto and the likes. The patient, laid back gamers and the Blade Runner fans are the ones who will enjoy this title the most, simply because they'd be willing to play the game and not have the desire to whip out a chain gun and start hosing everyone down just because that's what they're used to.
Before I end this article, I'd like to comment once again on this game's unique approach to the term "alternate endings". I've played several games that boast this as a factor, only to be let down time and time again. Why? Because winning and losing the game doesn't constitute an alternate ending. Anyone and everyone will die at least once in a given video game, and this shouldn't be considered something special. This is a cop-out, and the fake ending just becomes an obstacle you have to overcome.
Blade Runner boasts the true meaning of the alternate ending. You can either be the hard-core, skinjob-hating bounty hunter, or you can turn the tides and become the replicant sympathizer and team up with those you once wanted to kill. And the variable endings don't stop with just those possibilities. If you want to be the killer cop, you can get two separate endings. If you want to be the compassionate one, there are four (although two of them are really similar and don't change much).
So now that we're all on the same page (by which I mean agreeing that this game is superior to the toilet paper on film they dare call a classic), why bother with reading this review over and over when you could be playing this badass game? Sure, it's out of print, but that shouldn't stop the resourceful folks out there. Hit up eBay, Amazon Marketplace, Half.com, or hire a private investigator to track a copy down for you.
If you hate the movie like me but my assessment still sounds appealing, you'll have a blast. If you love the movie and want to have me disemboweled simply because we disagree, that's more than enough reason to get you playing too. And if you've already played the game and you love it, let's start bombarding the developers with letters, e-mail and messenger pigeons to get them to make a sequel.
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